<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile U.S. captures Iranian special forces commander near Baghdad

U.S. captures Iranian special forces commander near Baghdad

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

BAGHDAD The U.S.-led coalition has captured a senior Iranian operative who helped finance and equip Shi'ite militias.

U.S. Army paratroopers detained the suspected senior leader of the Iranian-sponsored Special Groups network during an operation in Baghdad's Beida neighborhood on Feb. 27, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said the Special Groups was trained and equipped by Iran. They said the organization, believed to comprise a series of cells, introduced the Explosively-Formed Penetrator, designed to destroy U.S. and other Western origin main battle tanks.

"The loss of yet another senior Special Groups leader places additional stress on the criminal Special Groups network," Maj. Trey Rutherford, executive officer for the 2nd Bn., 325th Abn. Inf. Regt., said.

"The network's armament caches are being discovered and destroyed," Rutherford said. "Even more importantly, the Special Groups element is being recognized by locals for what it is a criminal force focused on instilling fear, for monetary profit, in the people they claim to protect."

The Special Groups was first detected in 2007 as the Mahdi Army became splintered into rival factions. Since August 2007, the Mahdi Army has honored a ceasefire against the U.S.-led coalition, a decision that raised the profile of the Special Groups.

Officials said the unidentified Special Groups leader was captured after he left Sadr City, the teeming Shi'ite area that serves as the headquarters for Iranian-sponsored militias. They said the suspect has been a key facilitator in the procurement and movement of weapons in northeast Baghdad. He was also said to have been involved in the abduction, torture and death of Iraqis.

The coalition and Iraq have been receiving increasing cooperation from Shi'ites in identifying and capturing operatives from the Special Groups. Officials said the organization has been mostly engaged in intimidating Shi'ite businessmen.

"The network is cornered in Sadr City, and every member of the criminal group who sets foot outside is being captured rapidly," Rutherford said.

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